Even though winter is four months away, it is time to think about and plan your winter cattle-feeding strategy, says Patrick Davis, MU Extension regional livestock field specialist.
One of the main forages in southwest Missouri is fescue. Stockpiling tall fescue for winter feeding is an economical and useful tool for your winter cattle-feeding program, Davis says. Growing and managing stockpiled tall fescue in a winter-feeding program will reduce input cost and improve the profitability of your cattle operation.
Managing for forage
“Begin stockpiling tall fescue by clipping or grazing the fescue pasture to 3 to 4 inches and adding 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen in early August,” Davis says.
Remove these pastures from the grazing rotation until winter to allow fall fescue growth to accumulate. By adding the nitrogen and removing pasture from the rotation in early August, there is an increase in pounds of dry matter yield compared with later in the fall, which results in more efficient utilization of the fertility and more pounds of forage to graze.
“In addition to adequate forage accumulation, management of stockpiled tall fescue during grazing is important to maintain high forage quality and get the most efficient utilization out of that forage,” Davis says. Maintenance of the waxy cuticle layer on the fescue helps to maintain its quality through the winter grazing season.
Strip-grazing the stockpile is an efficient way to use forage and limit disturbance of the waxy layer, which helps maintain stockpile quality as long as possible. When strip-grazing, use an electric wire to allocate 2% to 3% of cattle body weight on forage dry matter basis for grazing.
“Wait to graze fescue until later in the winter-feeding season,” Davis says. Concentration of ergovaline, which is toxic to cattle, declines in the stockpile later in the winter.
The University of Missouri reported that in mid-January through February, concentrations of ergovaline are more likely to be below the cattle toxic threshold level of 200 parts per billion. By waiting until this time to graze the stockpile, cattle are less likely to exhibit fescue toxicosis symptoms and have improved health and performance.
For information related to producing and grazing stockpile tall fescue, contact your local MU Extension agronomy or livestock field specialist, or visit extension2.missouri.edu.